3 Areas States and Localities Need Help With the Election
September 22, 2016 Leave a comment
By Rachel Eckert, SLED Consultant
The presidential election is Nov. 8, giving states and localities less than 50 days to get their voting machines ready. The preparations are not quite as mundane and routine as in previous elections, however, as reports circulate that the machines are susceptible to hacking. States are taking steps to ensure that votes cast this election are accounted for and protected.
The problem has been with electronic voting machines. They can be easy to hack and if they don’t leave a paper trail as votes are cast, then there can be significant problems.
According to non-profit organization Verified Voting, approximately 25 percent of this election’s votes will be cast strictly electronic voting machines, leaving absolutely no paper trail. The image below, from Verified Voting, shows the usage of electronic voting machines and which provide auditable paper trails and which do not:
There are few states that are especially at risk, those in dark brown and dark orange. Those states will need to take extra security measures to ensure their machines are secure.
Technology companies can help:
- Protect against malware
In 2006, a Princeton professor was able to install malware on an electronic voting machine in less than a minute. Some of the electronic voting machines currently operating are upwards of 15 years old and beyond their intended useful life. Machines this old are easier to penetrate with suspicious code and malware and that’s where technology companies can help. While most states don’t have the budget available to replace all of their electronic voting machines in this budget cycle, technology companies can assist with patches and security fixes to help states while the machines are being replaced.
- Secure the complete system
It’s not just the machines that are at risk, it’s the voter registration and administration systems operated by state and national governments behind the scenes that can be attacked as well. In 2009, the Minnesota Secretary of State website was taken over and replaced with unauthorized content. Technology companies can help states and localities protect their voter rosters and citizen databases to prevent fraudulent voter information and fraudulent votes.
- Ensure adequate password protection
Voting machines in Virginia were found to have passwords as simple as “admin” and “ABCDE,” making it easy for someone with even the smallest amount of technical knowledge to penetrate the systems and alter the votes. Working with states and localities to perform basic security audits ahead of the election to ensure that proper protections are taken to secure votes can go a long way.
Most experts agree that a widespread attack on the election is unlikely. But it’s not as remote as many officials would like, so they’re scurrying to prepare their machines for the upcoming election to ensure as smooth and uneventful voting process as possible, leaving the headlines to the candidates rather than the machines.
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